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Knitting Fiction

Chapter 07: Deborah, The Knight

Published on: March 10, 2024

  Deborah cannot completely close her hospital gown. She holds the edges together. One hand above, and one hand below the two wires, each about six inches long, that protrude from her left breast. Deeper even than pain, is her shame. She is in a wheelchair, sitting next to the hospital information desk. It’s a wide open area with people passing, stopping, asking and having their questions answered. It is the information desk after all. She asks herself, it’s a thought that comes out of nowhere. Did Jesus feel shame as He hung on the cross? His head is drooped down, but probably not in shame Deborah reasons. After all He is firmly convinced He is God. It’s unlikely that God feels shame. Although, everyone agrees, He ought to. For the things he does to humans. He ought to. She stops herself right there. Or she tries to. It’s not acceptable that she compare her suffering to that of Jesus. 

     St. Lucy comes next to mind. Deborah sees her in the print hanging in her old first grade classroom. A beautiful woman, St Lucy stands gracefully draped in her robes, presenting an ornate platter—and on it her own self-plucked eyeballs. The print is one of a round of other martyr prints that are hung up high around three walls of the room. She remembers the martyrs hanging to her right. To her left. And behind her. A loving and suffering Jesus hangs on the forward wall. She is surrounded. She looks closely at her memory of St. Lucy’s face. There is not a trace of shame. In fact, the opposite. She looks peaceful. Okay, of course, by plucking out her own eyes she was able to avoid looking at the sin of the brothel in which she’d been imprisoned. Makes sense. 

     Deborah considers her first-grade self lucky, because St. Agatha was not included in the circle of saints. Agatha was another rich virgin who was imprisoned in a brothel for refusing to marry the king. Apparently it was a thing in those days. Only this king butchered off Agatha’s breasts. Eyeballs were replaced by breasts on the platter of her holy card. Debora reasons that the Sisters of Notre Dame probably considered free floating breasts too risqué for public viewing. The image of St. Agatha morphs into stories about modern day women, in Kosovo, Chechnya and Israel who are raped and have their breasts butchered off. Maybe they feel shame. But mostly they must feel terror. And pain. Or maybe they are numb. Or maybe they have already left their bodies, and watch from up above.  It’s violent images she is seeing and the part of her that is keeping an eye on herself notes that her shame is turning to anger. 

    It’s the day of Deborah’s surgery. Using ultrasound for guidance, the wires were worked deep into her breast as a guide for the surgeon. They lead directly to the cancer that will be removed. Now it’s a relay race. One of the battalion of young women from the breast cancer industry wheeled Deborah to the information desk, here she waits for the next relay to pick her up and deliver her to the OR. Deborah realizes that even if she knew the way, she cannot wheel herself. Clearly she needs both hands to keep her gown closed. Plus, she is standing guard on her wires, because she has become unreasonably afraid that someone will inadvertently bump into them. 

     She is careful to keep her head bowed and eyes searching the floor directly in front of her parked wheelchair. She does not want to catch anyone looking at her. What she wants is to be invisible. Instead she is locked into stocks in the public square. There ought to be a word, she thinks. Is there not a word that stands for the emotional combination of shame and anger? She can’t think of one. Maybe that’s because a person can have only one of these emotions at a time. Maybe, in reality,  I’m flipping back and forth between anger and shame, she thinks. 

     Deborah settles down into her stocks and ruminates about her history of breast shame. When her breasts first developed, she was taught how to keep them hidden. She has always had protrusive nipples. Lucky for nursing, unlucky for hiding. Early on she figured out how to press her nipples down by either wearing a padded bra or folding  pieces of tissue into flat squares and placing them over her nipples and under her bra. She was one of the first girls in her class to wear a bra and the boys had great fun sneaking up behind her and snapping the elastic in the back. In those days, before she knew she could be the boss of her body, she’d had her nipples twisted and bitten by lovers. Once when she was riding her bike a man walking the trail, grabbed her breast, and pulled her down, along with the bike. She left the skin of her arms and legs behind as she and her bike slid sideways along the blacktop. She remembers how shocked she was to hear soprano screaming. She was born an alto, and at first could not understand where the screaming siren was coming from. Then she understood it was from her own vocal cords, as she lay bleeding and being dragged into the woods. The screaming was out of control, with a voice of its own, so powerful it blasted her assailant out of the scene. The cops laughed when she called them. 

     She realizes that her two fists which are still clamped onto to the front of her hospital gown are cramping. She opens one, stretches her fingers and clamps back down. She opens the other, stretches her fingers, and just as she is clamping back down she becomes distracted by the smell of horse. Her nose, now become a wind spinner, turns toward the smell. She makes eye contact with a knight in shining armor riding across the wide expanse of the hospital vestibule toward her. His horse is white. His banners fly. His eyes, locked onto hers as he rides in slow motion, across the hospital vestibule, to her. 

     “Ma’am, are you by any chance waiting for a ride to the OR for surgery?” He leans down toward Deborah.

     “Oh yes,” She can hear the tell in her own voice of the tears she is holding back. “Are you sent from the OR to bring me there?” 

     “No, actually not. I just saw you waiting here. You have been here for awhile. Something must be holding them up. I know the way. I can give you a ride.”

     Any onlookers would be seeing a bearded young man in hospital garb, pushing a wheelchair in which an old woman rides. But Deborah’s experience differs from theirs. Because the knight leans sideways and extends his arm down to her. With the flexibility and strength of her twenty year old self, Deborah jumps and is lifted to be seated in front of the knight and astride the warhorse. Because sometimes there are knights in shinning armor.

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